A few years ago I was invited to lead a weight loss group at a city department that consisted largely of social workers. Considering the challenging nature of their jobs and environment, many of the participants were exhausted and overweight. I was actually looking forward to working with them to see if we could develop a conversation around strategies for self-care, improved nutrition and stress reduction.
Unfortunately, the very first meeting, one of the members raised her hand and said ‘we have to talk about the fact that we are being poisoned by our food!’ I smiled weakly. She went on to name a particular food additive (which one is not important) and to decry its insidious presence in all the food around us.
Mentioning to the group that ‘I am a marketing communications strategist with no medical training,’ I politely suggested that ‘we each need to go on our own journey of self discovery to identify foods which we think may be harmful and to avoid them, while understanding that our group is about weight-loss strategies and solutions.’
This didnít really stop her. Each meeting, while I struggled to facilitate a discussion about good health habits, portion control, positive self-talk and the like, this person would bring in articles and mention news programs that backed up her claims. Although I never attempted to dismiss this information or treat it disrespectfully, I strove mightily to acknowledge her concerns and then move on to other topics.
Week after week, attendance dwindled, and while a handful of participants made amazing progress, I spent inordinate amounts of time dealing with the ‘poison’ issue. As I was new at the job, I didnít feel comfortable putting my foot down. I was firm and polite, but I couldnít seem to stop her persistent and desparate desire to discuss this problem. At the end of our three months, the group disbanded and the ‘poison’ lady weighed (to the very ounce) exactly what she weighed at the beginning.
It always seemed to me that this person was actually crying out for help, but at the same time was refusing to take ownership of the central issue. As to whether that food additive is truly poisonous, I donít know, but I am absolutely certain that if she had put her crusade aside long enough to increase her fresh fruits and vegetables, drink plenty of water, get more rest, and work on stress release she would have lost weight, gotten healthier and felt better.
In a group that Iím currently leading, one of the participants has begun to constantly interject that she has a particular food allergy (which one isnít important) and that the foods around us are all poisonous to her so that none of our strategies will work for her. Again, fresh fruits and vegetables, exercise, water and stress release would do wonders for her and not trigger this particular allergy. But I don’t think that’s going to happen.
I understand from personal experience the anxiety and anger of being overweight, but I can’t help feeling that focusing on who or whatís to ‘blame’ can stop us from taking even simplest, most practical steps.